by Elizabeth Gibbons
Family First Prevention Services Act
The newest budget includes a (potential) gem for child welfare legislation: an attempt to help reshape the foster care system and combat the effects of the opioid epidemic. The Family First Prevention Services Act (FFPA) amends the funding structure of child welfare by allowing states to use federal matching funds for programs addressing mental health, substance abuse, family counseling, and parent skills training. All to keep families together, promote overall health and safety, and keep at-risk kids from entering the foster system. This funding comes from opening up the Title IV-E entitlement, traditionally reserved for foster care including oversight and support costs, adoption assistance, and kinship care, for states to use federal funds to support at-risk families. The idea is to fix the overwhelmed foster system by combating the root of the problem: mental illness and drug addictions made worse by limited resources and lack of support. Furthermore, this law seeks to help caseworkers by giving them more options to treat the individual families they work with and setting up a system that will lead to family stability, not family breakups. This law also supports and encourages the actions caseworkers have already been taking, such as moving the child in with close family instead of group homes. Much of the opposition is focused on the language of the bill regarding institutional placements including what some call group home placements. Some opposition and concerns expressed in the past by states such as New York and California focus on the unfunded mandates that would (potentially) harm state budgets. There is also concern that the newly added requirements would hinder their own state’s standards and policies. Other concerns expressed during the debate were over the fact that to pay for the legislation, adoption assistance funding would be delayed. This bill is a step forward in addressing the funding problems that cause unnecessary foster care placements. It will be interesting to see how effective it is at the state and local level.
A number of child welfare bills are moving through Florida Legislature, as detailed in a recent article published by WUSF Public Media. These bills, although focused on different aspects of child welfare and the foster system, work together to speed up the process of taking children who are vulnerable out of the foster system and into safe, permanent homes. One bill establishes a “family-finding program” to place children with qualified family members as opposed to limited number of qualified, non-kin homes. It also creates community-based centers that will offer these extended family members resources and support to ensure a successful transition and a stable home. Another bill speeds up the process of placing children of parents who are incarcerated into permanent homes by involving the parents in the case plan. This allows the parents to take productive steps that will allow them to successfully join back with their children when they are released. It also ensures that the children’s lives remain as safe and stable as possible during such a challenging time.This bill does not guarantee that families broken up by incarceration will be rejoined, but it does make the process more family-focused.
In Alaska, the Office of Children’s Services is making the first moves to transfer control of welfare services of Alaska Native children from the state government to a group of 18 tribal governments. This transition, called the Alaska Tribal Child Welfare Compact, is the first of its kinds between a state government and tribal government. It is intended to improve the disparities in the child welfare system that disadvantage Native children. In Alaska, Alaskan Native children make up 22% of the population, but 61% of these children are in state custody. Native children are less likely to be reunited with their parents and are more likely to have poor outcomes or traumatic experiences than their non-Native counterparts. The Office of Children’s Services has admitted their failure in protecting this vulnerable population; the Alaska Tribal Child Welfare Compact is a new approach to solve such a persistent problem and better serve Native children and their families. The first part of this transition will see the tribal governments taking over three key pieces of child welfare: finding relatives of children in foster care, arranging visitation between children and parents, and doing safety checks on homes where children who are vulnerable live. This transition will take time to implement fully, but stems for the need for a more holistic approach—one that could greatly benefit children, families, and communities. Read more from the Peninsula Clarion.
As discussed in an issue of last week’s Legislative Gazette, New York Governor Andrew Cuomo recently proposed in the Executive Budget to defund the Close to Home juvenile justice placement program (which keeps youth who are incarcerated and at risk of incarceration connected to their families and communities) and cap New York City’s child welfare funding. Child welfare agencies are criticizing this as a huge step backward; the New York State Child Welfare Coalition has expressed particular concern that the quality of life of those who rely on this funding—both families and individual youth—will be greatly diminished. Furthermore, the implementation of Raise the Age is expected to triple the number of juvenile cases, making programs like Close to Home critical. The current funding structure for New York City’s child welfare programs have propelled the city into national acclaim. It has made possible the effective, high-quality work New York City social workers do that in turn produces such tangible results as decreasing juvenile detention and reducing foster care use.
Elizabeth Gibbons is CWLA’s editorial intern. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.